The Family Y of Greater Augusta is offering free swimming lessons for all 2,555 Richmond County second-graders at no cost to the school system as part of a five-day program known as Splash.
Under the program, schools would have to release pupils for two hours a day for five consecutive days for the one-hour class and estimated hour of preparation and transportation.
In return, the pupils would learn water safety, swimming skills and self-esteem, according to Danny McConnell, the Family Y’s president and CEO.
“We were basically tired of hearing about news broadcasts of kids drowning,” McConnell said. “This is one big step in the right direction to avoid that taking place in the future.”
The school board’s Student Services Committee gave initial approval to the program Tuesday, but the full board must vote on the issue for finalization next Tuesday.
Acting Superintendent James Whitson said board members have to weigh the benefits of giving swimming lessons to children living in poverty who otherwise might not get the opportunity versus losing hours in the classroom.
School board Vice President Venus Cain was the only dissenting vote, saying it should not be the schools’ responsibility to teach children to swim.
“I just have a really big issue with us pulling kids out for a week,” Cain said. “When the test scores come back, we’re going to be sitting here with our mouths open wondering what happened. ... Five days can make or break a child.
“We cannot do everything. I think this is a program that should stay with the parents. ... Leave our children in the classroom so when they get to the third grade they are more than prepared.”
Other board members thought dedicating time to swim lessons was worth the loss of classroom time if it meant saving a child’s life. There is also the benefit of having no cost to the school system or families, said board President Alex Howard.
McConnell said a sponsor would cover the $50,000 cost of the program, and volunteers would donate swimsuits for needy children. The Family Y would also provide transportation from the schools to the three locations designated for the lessons.
If the school board approves the Splash program next week, participation would be optional.